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1000 Playwright Interviews The first interview I posted was on June 3, 2009.  It was Jimmy Comtois.  I decided I would start interview...

May 11, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 659: Ariel Stess

Ariel Stess

Hometown: Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Current Town: Brooklyn, New York

Q:  Tell me about I'm Pretty Fucked Up.

A:  I’m Pretty Fucked Up, which will premiere at Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks in June, is about three best friends who are ditching school to drive up into the mountains of New Mexico. It’s also about the students and staff back on campus who are dealing with an emergency lockdown. So the play is really about danger and freedom and captivity and responsibility.

The play started for me on a writer’s retreat with some Brooklyn College buds. I knew I wanted to write about this invincible, on-top-of-the-world feeling I recalled from sophomore year of high school when I first got my driver’s license. I remember driving around singing along to songs on a mixed tape and seeing the whole horizon in New Mexico stretch out before me and knowing that once my parents gave me the keys to the car, I could go anywhere and no one could stop me. So there is some of that in the play, kids driving around, feeling really free and in charge of their own lives, for the first time maybe ever. There is also a security guard back at school who is grappling with his role as protector during a big emergency.

The play, I think, also celebrates what can happen when nothing at all is happening, when we’re waiting for something to happen like when we’re driving, or flying, or waiting in elevators, or going out for recess. The play hangs out in those in-between moments, moments when we either choose to or are forced to relinquish control over what we’re doing, where we’re going, and why.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  I’m writing a monologue-diagram about Crown Heights with Mabou Mines, which I’ll be performing at the end of May. I haven’t appeared in my own stuff before and I never write one-person monologue plays. I read it to a few people last week and realized that reading it aloud helped me to touch base with what a story is, how simple it can be, and what it feels like to tell one. I’m also working on a full-length about seven 24 year-old women living in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

Q:  If you could change one thing about theater, what would it be?

A:  Theater should be more affordable. What can we do? We keep saying this. How do we solve this problem?

I would also like theater to find a way to help audiences approach new work, to help audiences approach plays with non-linear narratives, plays where time and space misbehave and misunderstand one another, plays that depict the shortcomings or the collapse or rebuilding of our communication structures. Plays that put us in precarious positions where we feel something that we are not accustomed to feeling. I don’t want plays to confuse people just for the heck of it. I am interested in theater that does not resolve the quagmire of our existence but rather carves out space to stew in it. I’d like theater to find a way to help cultivate audiences who can feel comfortable walking into these new narrative structures and sensations, and by comfortable I mean that they should feel proud and capable of sitting there and getting a little stirred up. I don’t want audiences to feel completely alienated or locked out of the art form. I don’t mean that we all need to speak like academics. I mean that we need to be able to circulate some tools to help audiences feel empowered to come try out new plays and new forms. I don’t quite know what those tools are. But I want theater to start thinking about it.

I know I know, I gave you two things but they both have to do with making theater more accessible, I think.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical heroes?

A:  Let’s see, BECKETT. Chekhov, Buchner, Ibsen, Aeschylus, Pina Bausch.

Living heroes: MAC WELLMAN, WILL ENO, Erin Courtney, Robert Wilson, Richard Maxwell, Julia Jarcho, Edgar Oliver, Clubbed Thumb, Jeff Jones, Joanne Akalaitis, New Georges, the Bushwick Starr, and of course Little Theatre.

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  I just saw An Octoroon last night by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins. An Octoroon does not resolve anything about racism and/or the history of slavery but rather it situates everyone inside of the building in a space where we must consider, confuse, misunderstand, regret, hate, reject, laugh, accept, weep, get defensive, get repentant, get confused, again, get guilty, laugh more, become ill, become whole, become fractured, and then steep in a disease we either don’t know how to or perhaps refuse to ameliorate or both or something else. The play does not solve any problems for anyone in the house. It immerses us in the mess we are in. And it makes us all feel. And it is completely surprising. It keeps shifting under us.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  Put up your own work on your fire escape and invite some friends who you trust to come see. And invite friends who you trust to be in it. And be kind to yourself. As Mac Wellman says, when you sit down to write, “put on your genius hat”. Also I think it’s important to start out messy. Make strange shapes.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  I’m Pretty Fucked Up directed by Kip Fagan at the Wild Project June 13th – 22nd

Crown Heights Project at Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center May 26th - June 1st

Heartbreak at the Bushwick Starr in May 2015.
No link yet because it is too far away…


Upcoming work by friends:

The Food was Terrible by William Burke at the Bushwick Starr May 14 – 31st.

New Georges Jam on Toast – check out all of these plays at Dixon Place May 14th – 31st!

41-Derful written and directed by Jenny Schwartz at the Wild Project May 30th – June 8th

Nomads written by Julia Jarcho directed by Alice Reagan at Incubator Arts Project May 30 - June 15

16 Words or Less written by Peggy Stafford directed by Portia Krieger at the Wild Project June 26th – July 5th

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